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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In synch with writing

In my previous blog I spoke about the symbiotic relationship between reading and writing. I've never heard of a writer who didn't also like to read. There are so many books out there. What to read, what to ignore, what to aspire to read someday? Weighty questions indeed.

Since I was a child growing up in India, I read a lot of Nancy Drew books along with my staple diet of Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton. Our school librarian knew me well enough and always had an indulgent expression as I signed out book after book. I read at great speed,devouring them, as if afraid someone would take them away from me.

My fear wasn't totally unfounded though - if my mother caught me reading books while I was supposed to be learning about the responsibilities of municipal governments or even parts of a flower, I would be in trouble. But how sweet those hours of slipping away into another land where such mundane tasks as homework never existed!

Nowadays I guess few people read, or have even heard of, Enid Blyton. I was a huge fan of her fairy stories at first, and then of course, her Secret Seven and Famous Five series. How I longed to be transported to a boarding school like Malory Towers!

I graduated to Nancy Drew, with her forthright American ways, a harbinger of the type of take-charge role model. The way she solved mysteries, the endless 'cool' factor that endeared her to so many generations of readers - all these resonated strongly with me.

Hitting teenage, I took a shine to soppy romance novels for a while. Mills and Boon became an obsession with me. Though not wholly satisfied with the writing, the lure of exotic locales had me hooked for a while. But that romance didn't last very long since I grew impatient with the tame happy endings and swooning heroines. To be truthful, I felt like slapping sense into some of them at times.

I became a serious reader after school. The classics beckoned and who could resist Dickens or Emily Bronte? Not me, and I fell into those books and allowed myself to be swept away time and again. I learned how language worked, how pictures were formed, how suspense was communicated.

Much later in life, my reading habit has only strenghtened. I read non fiction as well. And am getting through children's literature pretty easily. I love historical novels too.

Now I am writing a YA novel about Meg and Will, Home Children who came to Canada in 1900.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time for some R & R

No, its not Rest and Recreation I'm referring to. You've heard about Reading and wRiting, haven't you? When talking about writing, can reading be far behind? Sorry for the clumsy paraphrase. Yet, if you think about it, reading is essential and intrinsic to writing. If you can't enjoy a book's company, you are no writer, nor will you ever be one. These two are interlinked by a common love of words, an appreciation of their connotations and an understanding of the power of clear thoughts expressed succintly. Some years ago, I voluntered at an organization helping immigrants in my city. A lot of new immigrants come into my city because of its proximity to Toronto. Highly educated people come here from countries where they speak and read and write in languages other than English. I was paired up with a young girl who wanted to brush up her language skills in English. She wasn't a new immigrant any more though. Her family had settled in Canada for a long time for her to acquire familiarity and ease in English. Yet she couldn't read well, and obviously couldn't write. Her school work suffered and the reason why she had approached this organization was because she could not graduate from high school until she passed her mandatory English language courses. Now, I began, with great enthusiasm to draw up a reading list for her level. We read easy Readers through and through, we got through excellent children's books and by and by, I noticed a marked improvement in her writing abilities as well. When I had finished my sessions with her, she was proudly writing essays, basic by some standards, but still, essays which had clear direction and a coherent structure. I was proud of her. Moral of the story - if you want to write, read! But beware what you read. More on that later.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

First Timer


That was my first book. Let me see if I can give you a glimpse of the journey I undertook. It has always been my dream to write. Since childhood, I was drawn to writing. The bug bit me when I was in Grade 8. I started writing in my diary (it was an orange coloured AGFA company diary, I recall).

We were on a family trip to Darjeeling in West Bengal, that haunt of Himalayan wildflowers, cold bracing breezes and exquisite vistas of the venerated peaks.

Something awoke in me at the time. I came back absolutely throbbing with the beauty of nature I had witnessed. Since I couldn't draw, I wrote - it was as simple as that.

From then on, I fed my writing habit, scribbling furiously in journals throughout my teenage years. The dream to be a journalist was the next step. I followed the path required, and soon acquired a different set of skills. I began to take an interest in current affairs and learned all about the world of newswriting. I worked for newspapers and magzines, honing my skills in observing, and conveying my POV succintly. Seeing my byline in print added fuel to the fire.

My next goal was to write a book. Easier said than done, I'm afraid. When I tried to break into the Canadian writing world in early 2000, it was essentially a closed one. I tried without success to get my writing published in literary journals.

On the way I learned a number of things. You have to pitch your idea to the publisher first. Then if they bite, you write a proposal. Only if they like your proposal will they ask you to sign a contract. That's what happened to me.

In 2004, I finally signed on the dotted line and started writing this book. It was published in September 2005. When I first held the book in my hands...what can I say!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A writer's good friend - the Internet

I'm really excited to be connecting with you about this very important part of me - Writing. It's what I feel strongly about and would like to discuss as many aspects of it as possible in the hope that I am able to reach out to some of you who wish to publish your own books/articles. Some years ago, I wrote an ebook titled 'Positive Thoughts for Writers'. I sold it to an online publisher called Echelon Press. The company has since expired from the realm of the Internet, though I still have one hard copy of my work left. But so many of the steps that I took to reach my goal (at the time) were significant. I learned a great deal, as you often do, from varied experiences as you get through the Writing Life.

  • Don't be afraid to explore new forms. The tried and true are always there, but with this wonderful entity aka Internet, one can do so much these days.

  • There is no substitute for actually writing. The Internet can, and should be used as a tool. It shouldn't be an end, merely the means to an end. You can spend days and days looking up obscure references about the mating habits of lemurs, for instance, but unless you actually craft an article about lemurs, it's of no use.

  • Not all online publishers are legit. I can't emphasize this point enough. Check out the company thoroughly before you commit your work to one of them. Read between the lines. Anyone can, one fine day, open up a 'Publishing House' in cyberspace. Check their past work, who the main 'publisher' is, and what his/her credentials are.

  • Keep your copyright to yourself. Don't be fooled into gifting it away.

More later.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Stages of a book - part 1

I've just completed my second book, 'Champions of Women's Rights - Leading Canadian Women and their Battles for Social Justice'. It is to be published by Formac Lorimer Publishers in Toronto, and should be out next month, my editor tells me.

Some friends have asked me repeatedly how I go about writing a book. So here goes:

The whole process begins with thinking about a tiny germ of an idea. For instance, I love history and was pondering the major movements, let's say, under the broad headings of Canada, Immigration, Women.

Starting from this seed, I began doing preliminary readings to determine if there was any interesting shoot that could be developed to flourish on its own. In other words, I had to come up with a thesis that had legs (enough to write about 30,000 words).

Next, I ventured into more structured reading, and reached a conclusion, a marriage of my interests and practicality of a feasible project. So I drew up a proposal to pitch to the publisher.

Then the waiting begins - for their verdict. That is nerve wracking. Remember, this is the first step only, in this entire process.

When I wrote my proposal for the Champions book, it was completely different from the finished product that the reader will see. The acquistions editor urged me to refine my idea and then we had a deal.

Thus began the work of reading, reading and more reading! To write one book, you read at least 20. And that's the bare minimum.

Will write the following steps in my next entry.
Till then, goodbye.